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More foreign students seeking care worker qualifications as law change mulled

Vietnamese student Nguyen Huynh Yen, left, trains at a nursing home for the elderly in Taito Ward, Tokyo. (Mainichi)

The number of foreign students in Japan aiming to achieve care worker qualifications has surged by over 10 times in recent years amid deliberations to revise the immigration control law to add a new care worker visa category.

    At the Sunshine College of Social & Child Welfare in Tokyo's Toshima Ward, 48 of 60 new students for its care worker program this past spring were foreign students. Nguyen Huynh Yen, a 26-year-old Vietnamese first-year student, says she wants to become a certified care worker and then bring her family to Japan with her. Another student, Khanal Pramod, a 32-year-old Nepalese man in his second year at the college, will be among the first graduates under the new system if the legal revision comes into force next spring. He says that in the future he wants to bring the care techniques of Japan to Nepal.

    According to the Japan Association of Training Institutions for Certified Care Workers, based in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, only around 20 foreign students were enrolling at some 400 nationally designated care worker training facilities, such as vocational schools, in a typical year. This past spring, however, there were 257 foreign enrollees at the facilities, constituting 3.5 percent of the total. The association predicts that the number will jump further with the passage of the revised law.

    Non-Japanese have until now worked as care workers based on international economic partnership agreements (EPAs), which aim to produce economic gain through the free movement of people, labor and goods. Outside of the EPA route, foreigners could not work as care workers even if they obtained national certification for the job.

    The revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act could be passed even as early as the current extraordinary Diet session. It would allow foreign students who have studied for at least two years and graduated from a nationally designated care worker training facility to gain a work visa as a care worker.

    Currently, graduating from a nationally designated care worker training facility is enough to receive national certification as a care worker, but after the legal revision, starting with graduates in the 2022 academic year, all graduates including foreign ones, will have to pass a national certification exam.

    Japan is expected to face a shortage of over 300,000 nursing care workers in 2025. Facilities are therefore expected to employ more foreign care workers.

    Mamoru Nishiguchi, a professor of elderly welfare at Tokyo Kasei Gakuin University, comments, "Unlike with the EPA system, students (studying under the new system) can learn nursing care systematically and in specialized areas before they start to work. I think there will be a definite increase in foreign care workers."

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